Note: I wrote this probably back in July this year, but I think many of my thoughts are still relevant. I'm aware that John is planning a big show at Antioch and Merced for IMCA Modifieds and Sport Mods. Knowing his success and his willingness to pay, these will be huge as long as the weather permits it. I hope so. I'm not a big fan of racing in winter, but I hope this succeeds.
I've been lurking on the sidelines for a while, but I've been watching the numbers at the tracks with interest. Can you believe it's 2014? It seems like the time has gone by so quickly, but most of the race tracks we've known and loved in recent years are still around. I want to comment on the track that was my home track for most of my time in the sport, Antioch Speedway.
First, I am a Soares fan. Always have been, always will be. John and his dad.... Not a big fan of Jim, but I do respect him. The legacy that John Soares Sr. left us is that long after he's been gone, Antioch Speedway and Petaluma Speedway, the tracks he guided for years, are still around. I can't help but think he'd be proud of that. At this rate, John Soares Jr. may end up running Antioch Speedway as long or longer than his father's 20 year run.
Nobody thought John Jr. would last. I was there, and the critics kept hating him for everything. I knew what he wanted to do with the place. That's why I supported him at great risk to my own status in the sport before he even won the bid. Before anybody knew he was going after the track, I was there supporting him in every way I could. I want John to run Antioch Speedway as long as he wants to, and I hope that the track will continue after he leaves.
If anybody thinks there is animosity on my end, there is none. Broken hearted? Maybe. I was offered a spot not too many years back and would have had a lot of responsibility on my plate. I could handle it, but I didn't quite hear what it would have been worth to him to have me back. I still love the sport, but the time of doing it for love ended when I walked away. I stand by my record, I am proud of what I achieved, proud of my sister and proud of John and Donna.
That said, I look at the numbers and wonder what has happened this year. I have theories, and this is not a rip of John. Believe me, if he wasn't paying the bills there, racing would be done. This was always my defense of Chuck Griffin at Merced. I didn't agree with all he did, but the show went on until the end while he and Marylee ran that place. And wouldn't you know, John brought it back. John's legacy as one of the best promoters of short track racing is secure, just as his father's reputation is secure.
Four words; Spec Sprints & Dirt Modifieds.
As I see it, John's ace in the hole for big shows since he took over was Dirt Modifieds, but he's been hurt in the last year or so. IMCA sanctioning is not conducive to big money shows, in my opinion, and the class I really am not a fan of, Sport Mods, has hurt the cause. On Sport Mods, I bet John really didn't want to add the class, but he had to. The numbers down south forced him to. The problem is, this class divides the car count, and ultimately, it will win. It's a good and bad thing. Will cars come to Antioch? Yes. But, the Dirt Mods will suffer for it.
John tried to do a work around with his series races on non IMCA nights, but he's hurting on two levels. First, some IMCA Mod guys will not support this show, because they don't want to race against the big dollar teams for no IMCA points. This would be okay if there were enough "outlaws" out there. There are not. IMCA has taken over... for now. It's a good and bad thing. Certainly it's good for the little guy and having a universal rule set. It's bad for the special big shows during the season that john likes to run. He's had some big shows in the past.
So, John will have to make a decision to either fight for the big show or give it up and just do the IMCA thing like everybody else. The 14 car show for the money recently was a disappointment. Not to mention only 14 360 Sprint Cars. I know he pays as advertised, so guys are staying away for other reasons. That's another topic I'll avoid for now. I believe John is frustrated about the situation, because this show was usually one he could count on for cars.
The Dirt Mods have gone as low as 8 cars at Antioch. The Spec Sprints have as well. The Spec Sprints felt the wrath of John this season with an impromptu cancellation due to a low car count of 8 cars. Interesting that the lows of both divisions at Antioch are similar, but the Spec Sprints were signaled out. This is where I get critical. Maybe I'm biased, because if Don O'Keefe Jr. and I hadn't started this class to begin with back in 1999 with all the work we put into it, racing in Northern California would be different. No, I don't take all the credit. John paid as advertised.
Anyway, John missed the boat on Spec Sprints. I've had it suggested to me that maybe John didn't really want this class to begin with. Sounds silly to me, but I know he hasn't had the passion for the big show when it comes to Spec Sprints. There's every indication he could have had a big event or two to rival the Dirt Mod shows. It was said to me by a friend that John just wanted to end the NCMA, and he didn't care if Spec Sprints had been as successful as it was in 1999. Hmm... I can only say that I personally didn't want to end any class. I simply wanted to end the politics that had held back this class for far too long, and this seemed like the way to do it. I have to wonder if, when the dust all settles, the NCMA will be all that's left. That would be an ironic ending.
I can't help but be disappointed in John's lack of desire to start a Spec Sprint series. Oh, the NCMA had their Select Series and there's the Hunt Series, but the series I called the California Spec Sprint Revolution never happened. It should have. I've long felt that Antioch, Chico, Marysville and Watsonville should have started this deal with Petaluma getting on board. Had Tom gotten serious and started his own class at Chowchilla back then, I would have loved his involvement. Chowchilla's Open Wheel Round Up put this class on the map as far as a division capable of big events.
John hesitated to do anything here. He instead did some Modified series stuff and Limited Late Model series stuff, but nothing for Spec Sprints. It was a missed opportunity, in my opinion. At the least, there should have been big end of the season stuff for this class with a real attempt to get the cars to come. However, that's not where is passion lies. I understand that, and it's okay. The Dirt Mods have a good record, but who ever said it had to be an either or situation for big events?
In the end, it's John's money, and he has to decide where to spend it and where he thinks he can make it back. He's been there since 1998, so he's dong something right. I don't know where Spec Sprints fit in all of this, and what the future holds. Don and I said if it got to 10 years, we'd consider it a big success. Well, it's the 16th year now. Plus, all other tracks that jumped on board here, took their cues from Antioch. A few even remember the word Spec in the name. Chico once had an event with over 70 cars. So, I'd say it's safe to say it's a success.
I'm not writing this to be a jerk or to even put anybody down. I respect John. If his goal is to have the track longer than his dad, I hope he does. I hope he keeps the track thriving enough that somebody can come in and run it when he leaves. It looks like he's setting things up that way at Merced, and I love that John had the guts to take a track people claimed was worthless. Merced is an awesome race track, and John was the only one willing to stand up for it and bring it back to life. So, yeah, I'm a fan. I love love my Spec Sprints too and think about what could have been.